The PBS characters continue to be themselves and delight us all the way.
I began my review of the first movie version of Julian Fellowes’ acclaimed PBS series “Downton Abbey” with this: “…..the movie version of the hit series “Downton Abbey,” and even for all the characters’ subplots being crammed in the 2-hour runtime, it still has more charm than the “Sex & The City” movies.
Now, we have the sequel “A New Era,” which is miles ahead of “Sex & the City 2” in every way possible. Like the first movie, it’s well-acted, whimsical, and has the right kind of attitude for a period piece. The first film showed royalty who’s boss by allowing the Downton staff to serve the royal family their way, while “A New Era” wants to spoof the transition of silent films to talking pictures. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The story begins with the marriage between the cook Daisy (Sophie McShera) and the footman Andy (Michael Fox), and the fact that the dying Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) passes down a villa in the South of France to her great-granddaughter Sybbie-a villa that her family never knew she had. Their story about life after marriage isn’t that compelling, but the villa story, that’s where things start to get interesting.
Hugh Dancy plays a filmmaker named Jack Barber, who wants to make a silent movie at the estate, just as talking pictures were on the horizon. Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) turns him down, while Charles Carlson (Jim Carter) says: “this ranks with one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution,” but Mary (Michelle Dockey) suggests that they go through with it to pay off some of the damages-like the leaking roof.
Characters like Robert, his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Charles, and Lady Bagsaw (Imelda Staunton) travel to the French villa, while others like Mary, Violet, and the staff stay behind-some of them help the film crew out.
About the silent films and talking pictures. Barber receives word that the talkies are in and the silent is out, which would mean production has to shut down. Mary has the common sense to suggest the movie transcend into a talkie, which would require a technician to record the dialogue for the already filmed scenes.
The stars of the “moving picture” consist of Dominic West plays the charming Guy Dexter and Laura Haddock (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) as the spoiled and snobby Myrna Dalgleish. As you might expect in the movies when silent film stars have to take on the new variation, they can either be as successful or bombastic. Guy keeps his cool, while Myrna needs a dubbing job. Again, Mary helps out with that.
Meanwhile, Robert suspects that his mother Violet may had an affair the year before he was born. The rest of the trip has him being a negative Nancy about it, but that would also be the least of his worries.
I give both “Downton Abbey” movies three stars, because while I can’t get every subplot, I really enjoyed the elegant style and tone, and delightful atmosphere that resonates with the series. And the performances from the cast are uniformly excellent in the ways they transcend from TV to the silver screen. “A New Era” deals with the arrival of talking pictures, not at the first-rate level of “The Artist,” but on a fun scale. And I like the way Mary helps Jack adapt to the new changes in the filmmaking process, and how the former valet-turned-schoolmaster Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle) is able to contribute to the script. In fact, he may have a new career opportunity.
Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie continues to have its heart in the right place in regards to the new directions of Fellowes’ characters, and the ways they try to adapt to their new surroundings. There are happy and sad times, ones that will either satisfy fans or leave them in tears. It all depends on how the story presents the emotions and tones to them.
Early Access Screenings This Wed
Opens Everywhere This Thursday